Batgirl Vol. 1: Beyond Burnside (Rebirth) by Hope Larson & Rafael Albuquerque
Now is the right time to admit that I don’t read many DC comics — or many comics, period. I jumped straight into this series without any context of Barbara Gordon’s life or background, beyond the general basics of the character. (For instance, I know she’s the daughter of Commissioner Gordon and spent some time in a wheelchair, but I have no idea how she regained the use of her legs, or who Frankie is).
So how does this story hold up for someone with just a tenuous understanding of Batgirl? Pretty good.
Barbara is on holiday in Japan, catching up with her old friend Kai, enjoying the sights, and hoping to interview Chiyo Yamashiro, a one hundred and four year old superhero known as Fruit Bat.
But of course, events transpire that disrupt her holiday groove. Criminals adept in a range of martial arts are in pursuit of something they call “the formula”, each one tattooed with a mysterious mark that identifies them as “the student.” And where there’s a student, there naturally has to be a teacher.
From Japan to Singapore to Shanghai, Barbara’s investigation sends her deeper into a criminal underworld, and a realization that her friend Kai knows more about what’s happening than he’s letting on. The solution to the mystery is interesting in that it’s deeply entwined with an aspect of Asian culture, and it’s refreshing to have a story that genuinely feels like it’s taking place in a non-American environment.
Batgirl Vol. 1: Beyond Burnside (Rebirth) ends with fun little conclusion in which Barbara comes across Poison Ivy on a plane, and the trouble that ensues when one of her dangerous plants gets out of control.
I enjoyed reading about the seedy underside of society that’s so prevalent in Batman comics, but without the grim spectre that is Batman himself. Barbara (and Batgirl) is more upbeat and cheerful, leading to an interesting contrast between personality and setting. Though it has its moments of darkness, this Barbara is bursting with life and enthusiasm, which is a good fit for the colour and energy of Rafael Albuquerque’s artwork.
It’s fast-paced, involving, and most of all: fun! I’m looking forward to more of Hope Larson’s take on this character.